Group A: Brazil (hosts), Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
With hosts Brazil alongside them in Group A, Croatia expect to vie for second spot. Coach Niko Kovač has had a few injury concerns that have required his starting XI to be tinkered with, but the key trio of Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić and Mario Mandžukić should all be ready and raring come the finals. "We want to achieve big things," said Real Madrid CF midfielder Modrić. "We will not disappoint in Brazil, our fans will be proud of us." Croatia qualified with victory against Iceland in the play-offs.
Group B: Chile, Australia, Netherlands, Spain (holders)
The 2010 runners-up dropped just two points in qualifying under Louis van Gaal, who did not make the finals in his previous spell in charge 12 years ago. Departing for Manchester United FC when the campaign ends, Van Gaal has selected a squad with old heads like Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder up front, but the main worry lies in defence, largely made up of rawer players from the Eredivisie. "My dream is to become world champions," Van Gaal said. "That is what I live for, but I can name eight nations who have a better chance than us. I am always very realistic, but we do have a chance."
FIFA World Cup winners for the first time four years ago, Spain will defend their title with cautious optimism. A chastening 3-0 defeat by Brazil in last year's FIFA Confederations Cup final served as a warning to Vicente del Bosque's side. "The players are training very well and will arrive at their opening game [against the Netherlands] in good condition," Del Bosque said of the back-to-back UEFA European Championship winners, whose squad boasts 16 players from their 2010 success in South Africa.
Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan
"Greece have been dealt a tricky draw, a group where every team could finish top or bottom," Fernando Santos said after the recent 2-1 victory against Bolivia. The Portuguese is still pondering his options ahead of Saturday's opener against Colombia, with midfielders Giannis Fetfatzidis and Panagiotis Kone now in contention. Striker Kostas Mitroglou will be crucial for Greece, but expectations? In 1994 they played their first World Cup match; in 2010 they recorded their first win; come 2014 they are seeking a first knockout tie.
Group D: Uruguay, England, Costa Rica, Italy
Expectations are uncharacteristically moderate; gone are the customary predictions of glory, replaced by fears of a group stage exit. Manager Roy Hodgson, sanguine enough, is not making any outlandish forecasts prior to his second final tournament at the helm. "We think our players, if they play to the best of their abilities and we get some luck, can have a very good World Cup." Indeed the Three Lions were undefeated in qualifying and will be hopeful that relatively untried youngsters such as Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley can add to their threat.
Traditionally slow starters at major championships, UEFA EURO 2012 runners-up Italy have not exactly excelled themselves in their pre-tournament friendlies. Coach Cesare Prandelli, however, is not unduly worried. "Obviously we need to improve," he said after successive draws against Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg. "But we go to Brazil in the knowledge we can have a great World Cup." With young players like Matteo Darmian, Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile all in great form, Prandelli has good reason to be confident.
Group E: Honduras, Ecuador, France, Switzerland
Trailing 2-0 after a disastrous play-off first leg against Ukraine, France would be forgiven for feeling grateful to find themselves in Brazil. But there is real excitement and defiance around l'Hexagone caused by the emergence of fearless young talents such as Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Raphaël Varane, as well as a seemingly straightforward group featuring Switzerland, Honduras and Ecuador. Injury to Franck Ribéry is a blow but, four years after the 'Knysna fiasco' in South Africa, the 1998 winners are determined to write a new page in their World Cup history.
In what may have been their most impressive qualification campaign to date, Switzerland remained unbeaten to book their ticket to Brazil. Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who will retire after the tournament, praises the "tactical discipline and creativity in attack" of his side and has declared that "surviving the group stage would be a big success". The ambitions sound modest, yet a squad containing dangerous players like Valentin Stocker, Josip Drmić and Xherdan Shaqiri is capable of surprising.
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Dragons arrived in Brazil following training camps in Sarajevo and the United States, where they beat the Ivory Coast (2-1) and Mexico (1-0). Coach Safet Sušić has no injury concerns ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina's major tournament bow, with defender Ervin Bičakčić available once more. "We play in a tough group," said Sušić. "The first match is against Argentina, one of the favorites. Our goal is to give our best in the first match, to gain confidence and try to reach the second round."
Group G: Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States
Having gone far in their last four major tournaments and dropped only two points in qualifying, one might think Germany would fancy their chances. However, recent injury worries surrounding key players Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Manuel Neuer have dampened the mood. Joachim Löw admits the situation is robbing him of sleep: "At night, I often think about lineups, injuries and the matches, but I have not yet dreamt of winning the trophy." If his side can overcome recent defensive problems and utilise their immense quality in attacking midfield, Löw should not be bothered by insomnia for long.
"We have to think one game at a time and our first goal is to get through the group stage. Then we will see. We have the best player in the world but that doesn't mean we have to be world champions." These words from coach Paulo Bento show the spirit in Portugal's camp: moderate optimism and realistic expectations. Qualifying was not as brilliant as the play-off against Sweden, when Cristiano Ronaldo starred. All hope again falls on the Madrid man, though his left leg injury is raising concerns.
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, South Korea, Russia
The last time Belgium were in a major finals in 2002, Marc Wilmots was a player. Now the coach, his team topped their qualifying group unbeaten – more than a decade of player development reaping the rewards with the talents of Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, among others, giving plenty of cause for optimism. However, Wilmots warns: "In theory we can beat every team, but we could also suffer some accidents."
Having missed the last two World Cups, Russia are keen to show what they are capable of. They qualified in impressive fashion, finishing above UEFA EURO 2012 semi-finalists Portugal, and are understandably upbeat. Russia are the only team at the tournament to have all 23 of their squad plying their trade domestically. Their coach, though, is the distinguished Italian Fabio Capello, who knows progressing from Group H is no foregone conclusion. "Many people think it should be easy for us, but I want to tell them they are wrong," he said.
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